Some destinations are best approached from the deck of a cruise liner: the Norwegian fjords, the Mediterranean islands, and Alaska’s Inside Passage. Only then can you experience the wonder of a rising sun over nature’s majesty the way earlier explorers might have captured it, before the intrusion of man - where land encounters water’s edge.
Alaska’s Inside Passage is a 500-mile net of remote islands, fjords and waterways in the state’s lower southeast corner. Lifelong resident Alan Chaffen invites you to discover, “There’s a way of life you see and it’s all set in this amazing place.”
Southeast Alaska is one of the most popular cruise ship destinations in the world, welcoming over 600,000 visitors a year to experience a splendor described by 19th century naturalist John Muir as “pure wildness.” Watercrafts provide access to miles of pristine coastline, old-growth forests, glaciers, tiny ancient fishing villages, glaciers and vast populations of porpoises, whales, sea birds, seals, sea lions, otters and eagles.
From Vancouver, British Columbia, one- and two-week itineraries include stops at various ports of call where passengers spend the day taking optional land-based tours such as flightseeing, fishing, gold-panning, hiking, and touring Alaskan Native cultural attractions.
The question is which sort of watercraft is best for exploring Alaska’s Panhandle?
If you want to recall the days of the 19th century Klondike Gold Rush, when steamships carried passengers to the land of adventure and wealth, take a cruise ship. Cruise ships range in size and luxury, from megaliners to small ships and formal to casual atmospheres.
Independent travelers can jump a ferry at Bellingham, Washington and ride the Alaska Marine Highway, sleeping in recliners on the deck or in berths onboard, and other nights in bed-and-breakfasts in the towns and villages along the way. A car or camper is easily loaded onto the ferry, expanding independent travel options even further.
If you’re the adventurous type, pack a kayak to explore the nooks and crannies of the silent coves and tiny islands that pepper thousands of miles of pristine coastal water. Sea kayaks are easily checked onto ferry vessels, or can be rented in most Southeast towns and villages along the route. Fully-guided sea kayaking trips are also available from many tour operators.
But if luxury without crowds is your preference, hop aboard a yacht. Often owned by local Alaskans, small yachts offer the luxury of a commercial cruise ship and the intimacy and flexibility of exploring from a private boat. Larger yachts can accommodate 12 guests in six private staterooms and offer fishing, kayaking, hiking and wildlife viewing from the boat and onshore. Many larger yacht charters have on-board naturalists, and itineraries can be customized to fit any schedule or interest.
Alaska’s cruise season begins in May and ends in September, when days are warmer and drier. Mid-summer brings the longest days, but the shoulder seasons of spring and fall reward the traveler with tranquil solitude.
For an Alaska Inside Passage Travel Planner, visit www.travelalaska.com.